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New TV attack claims Kemp failed to stop massage parlor ‘abuser’

Secretary of State Brian Kemp talks to a small crowd at a rally at the Roswell City Hall Sunday, July 22, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Secretary of State Brian Kemp talks to a small crowd at a rally at the Roswell City Hall Sunday, July 22, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Republican Brian Kemp faced a fresh attack Wednesday from Georgia Democrats who unveiled an attack ad that claims he failed to stop an "abuser" in the massage parlor industry.

The 30-second spot released by the Democratic Party of Georgia features shadowy images and grainy footage of Kemp as a narrator accuses his office of renewing the license of a therapist who pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman during a massage.

“Let that sink in for a moment,” says the voiceover. “Brian Kemp’s office renewed the abuser's license. If he isn’t protecting the victims, just who is Brian Kemp protecting?

This is a familiar line of attack against Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor who faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

It stems from scrutiny of his handling of two Massage Envy clinics that face at least four complaints of therapists groping women during massages.

The Board of Massage Therapy, under Kemp's purview as secretary of state, has not sanctioned or revoked any of the accused therapists' licenses, though an investigator looked into at least one complaint. Three of the therapists still have active licenses, and the fourth lapsed with no public action taken by the state.

This ad zeroes in on the case of Brandon Knox, a therapist whose license lapsed in 2016 with no public disciplinary orders, though he had pleaded to misdemeanor criminal battery after being accused in 2012 of sexual assault at a Massage Envy clinic in Cobb County. In a civil suit, she claimed that Knox had also previously been accused of touching a client inappropriately.

Kemp's campaign has described these attacks as a distraction. Though his office has administrative oversight of the massage board, only members appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal have authority to suspend or revoke licenses and conduct investigations.

The therapists targeted with the complaints were banned from employment at any of the franchise’s locations, Massage Envy said in a recent statement.

It's the first televised attack ad lobbed by Democrats at Kemp since he coasted to the GOP nomination in July. As Abrams largely refrains from assailing Kemp, the state party has assumed the role of the sharp-elbowed attacker. The party also released a website Wednesday focusing on Kemp's "inaction."

Republican groups have already released several salvos targeting Abrams, including TV spots that link her to Nancy Pelosi, label her a “radical liberal” and spotlight her financial struggles.

It's not the first time Kemp has faced TV attacks on his office's handling of the complaints. Shortly before the July runoff, an outside group backing Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle released a 1970s-themed spot suggesting campaign cash influenced his oversight.

Here’s the script:

The abuser pleaded guilty to assaulting a woman during a massage. She told him to stop. This wasn't his first offense. Yet Brian Kemp's office, which is responsible for overseeing licensing of Georgia massage therapists, renewed the abuser's license. Let that sink in for a moment. Brian Kemp's office renewed the abuser's license. If he isn't protecting the victims, just who is Brian Kemp protecting?

Here’s the ad:

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